If you’ve used the phrase ‘chin up’ or ‘just get some fresh air’ you might never have experienced a mental health illness.
I’ve spent my life changing jobs when the facade drops and the mask falls off, as I’ve felt embarrassed and shamed by outbursts, episodes or difficulties with my own mental health. I’ve left workplaces I’ve loved, rather than explained myself to avoid the shame from the stigma attached. Why am I hot-mess in a swirl of chaos and drama followed by periods of bleak anxiety or despair? Following a relapse this week, I am speaking out about my mental health difficulties. In seeing the truth, will my professional achievements be tarnished? Do I risk losing another career opportunity? I hope in using my voice, my coping mechanisms will be recognised as the debilitating effect of depression is realised, without being written off.
In a society where the most capable, intelligent, over-achieving women are restricted behind a glass ceiling, what becomes of the rest of us? Is it better to have predictability in a poor manager than unpredictability in a great one?
I have long studied the science of management and leadership in its practicality and theory. It is my favourite subject. To date, my proudest achievements lie in my time building hospitality teams under pressured conditions. & I still hope to have a career and raise a family, but fear that explaining my difficulties will render me ‘unreliable’ – a stark contrast to how I see my personality and work ethic.
Mental health, and difficulties with such, is an illness and doesn’t make me unstable, unsound or incapable. The symptoms can be challenging and debilitating, but the disorder doesn’t define a person, especially if we support people to manage it, recognising triggers and stress factors in the way we recognise adaptations for those with physical ailments.
Often creative, talented leaders with problem-solving skills have a bipolar or a depressive disorder. Two of my most inspiring managers had depression. When one took me under his wing, I pushed him away outraged by his suggestion of medication. In hindsight, not such a bad idea after all.
These individuals can be the life and soul of the party, the host at social events or the hunter- gatherer; providing for their pack, functioning on the surface.
So how is this all related to ducks? The Duck Theory or Duck Syndrome offers insight, that like the metaphorical duck, many suffering are seemingly swimming along calmly as expected but could be paddling frantically beneath the surface. This theory was noted in 2015 by The NY Times during an alarming number of campus suicides when bright, gifted, privileged university students committed suicide, to the shock of their loved ones who believed ‘they had everything’. The lack of awareness surrounding mental health struggles left these individuals feeling there was nowhere to turn during difficult times in their lives. Some may have had underlying disorders and some may have had difficult experiences but the circumstances suggest they didn’t seek help. They kept paddling like the duck, struggling silently.
I am looking at alternatives to medication, but it’s something I’m considering. In fear of losing the highs, I would save myself from the lows. What would happen if I just stepped in front of an oncoming train? These moments are only ever fleeting and brief yet those perfect ‘little ducks’ mentioned above who committed suicide were noted as describing their suicidal thoughts as ‘fleeting’ , ‘brief‘ and ‘not real‘ too.
Those individuals are no longer with us.
What occurred between that moment and that of their death? An attempt to end their life or an attempt to end the pain? Didn’t their families know? Wasn’t it obvious? According to ‘The Duck Theory’, maybe not as obvious as we think.
Reminding people of lifes luxuries is rather irrelevant. I love my life and I am so blessed which only adds to the guilt, I know others share, in not even understanding their own pain. The confusion between loving every little moment of life and simultaneously hoping the pain ends is exhausting.
My personal experience of tight rope walking between the two puts my nerves on edge. Anxiety triggers are in everyday life and I have my own avoidances, so boss, if you’re reading, I’m not lazy or ridiculous. I promise. My brain just doesn’t function the same as yours. Some days getting out of bed is an achievement for me.
As a coping strategy to deal with the symptoms; anxiety, heart palpitations, insomnia, depression and disconnection I feel from society, I still take great pleasure in my friendships, a way to cling to my purpose and identity. Some normality.
In the same way that we make allowances for people with physical impairments, my life is centred around these coping strategies identifying stress and triggers. I have managed this far through hormones, diet and adjusting my lifestyle. I take on project focused work, part time hours, avoiding my known triggers as a survival mechanism. However at 25 I have to accept that I am battling on my own and as with most forms of depression, it only worsens without professional treatment. I need help and I’m finally sharing my experience with bipolar, depression and mental health to increase understanding and awareness.
Be kind , we never know what battles someone is facing.
BFF ABROAD has been an ever-evolving project of mine and platform to talk about topics and issues that are interesting to me. I love to host and cater parties and reach out to new Expats in the community facilitating friendships and expat lives in this beautiful city. It is wonderful to also have a platform I can detail my own journeys in the hope to raise awareness and provide strength to others who are facing the same battles. Expat life is challenging but no matter if it’s dating, paperwork or mental health, we are never alone.